Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Carnival Monday Night

It is Monday night and my head is heavy with a hangover. My feet feel like lead. My newly bald head is sunburnt. My mouth is dry from dehydration. Too many memories of gorgeous women fill the mind, so I'm a bit addled.

In other words, it's Carnival Monday night.

I actually got some sleep last night after skipping Lara, and getting to bed at 8:30, which was just enough sleep to get up for 2am at Jouvert with Section 8. That went on until about 9:00am, whereupon we collapsed into bed for a heavy, heavy nap. We got up a couple of hours later in time to go searching for our band -- Tribe -- only to find that when we were on Ariapita Avenue looking for them, they were on the stage at the Savannah (with some people looking for us.)

For the initiated, missing the stage on Monday is a little like missing the most important rehearsal for the most important performance of the year!

Instead, we made do with crossing the stage with a different band, Harts -- one in which I have several friends from prior years.

We eventually found the band just before lunch, and sat on the grass eating and catching some energy.

This all happened on top of a pretty daunting schedule (for a 39-year old anyway.) We went to a private function yesterday afternoon (Sunday) that we got to at 5pm, after getting lost someplace in Central Trinidad. We were late... and were the last to eat and the last to leave.

That itself came after the breakfast party in Diamond Vale, which started late after a 3am power cut. We didn't get there until 5:30am, which was late, but that didn't matter much. This party continues to be the best fete each year for me in Carnival, by far, and I didn't leave there until 12:00 pm. I can't say exactly what makes it so good, other than the usual elements: music, liquor, food, beauty, wining. I suspect that there is something primordial about jumping around to heavy bass music to usher in the dawn, and with all the sexaul energy in the air, it's pretty electric.

I find myself complaining this year about the lack of good music, however, and and notice that DJ's are playing a LOT of old music, which has never happened before in my experience. This is very different. It seems that the music needs to evolve to the next level, as each of the popular songs this year has its almost exact counterpart from last year in a song performed my the same artiste (or someone close to them in style.) It makes for a very repetitive feel.

I'm interested in what will happen next year, as I think artistes that make the creative jump and take a risk will be rewarded.

Tuesday starts with the band assembling at 7:00 so, I'll give in the body's need to refresh itself for another early start.


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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Steel in the Night

It's Carnival Saturday night, and I am listening to an internet broadcast of the Prime Minister announcing the election of the new head of the PNP -- Portia Simpson-Miller.

But, as I listen to his words, my head and heart are filled with pride and astonishment at yet another Panorama Steelband Finals in the Savannah at Port of Spain, Trinidad.

I remember the first time I heard pan -- I was shocked that no-one ever told me that such a thing existed. Or maybe someone did, but I wasn't listening -- LOL.

Steel orchestras of over 100 people are wheeled onto a huge stage, and play the most exciting pan music I've ever heard, at a frenetic pace. The effect is astounding, as hundreds of percussion instruments roar into the night. Months of group practice come to a head. There is no sheet music, as the players have all learned their parts by heart through constant repetition. Some are playing a single steel drum with tens of notes. Others are playing nine steel drums with 3 notes or more each. Even others are using other percussion instruments, including traditional African drums, chimes, bells, car brakes and other instruments that have names that I am not acquainted with.

The miracle is that the source of this music comes from what looks to most of the rest of the world as garbage pans. That magic could come from rubbish is part of the miracle, and that Caribbean people are the innovators of this music is another. We, the people formed from "the stone that the builder refused" overcome the horrible tragedies of our past, and our historical status as the lowest members of the human race in the eyes of the earthly powers of the past few centuries.

I felt very, very proud tonight.

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Carnival 2006

So, here we are in Trinidad, and it's Saturday morning. (The "we" in this case includes my wife and best friends.)

I don't know how I'm finding time to blog, between meeting friends, liming, fete-ing, sleeping, eating and just enjoying the best that Trinidad has to offer.

So far we've been to the fete in Ortinola (sp?) and to Soca Monarch, and have just gotten hold of our costumes in Tribe.

Now we're off to lunch, in a fast hurry, and are heading to Panorama finals tonight, before Breakfast fete at 4am Sunday morning.


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A Good Woman Dat

Moving Back to Jamaica has everything to do with who you move back with.

I don’t have any children, so I can’t say much about that side of the experience, but within the space of 8 months last year I did get engaged, married in Runaway Bay, packed up in Florida (where I lived,) packed up in DC (where she lived), moved our belongings back to Kingston, moved myself and then moved her.

Looking back it all seems like I was crazy to do that much so quickly.

But it all worked out in the end, and reminds me of saying that I saw yesterday: “It all works out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out then it’s not the end.”

Part of what made it work is the kind of woman I married.

I think this has something to do with Moving Back to Jamaica successfully, and while I have not been back home for a year yet, I can see some of the qualities that she has, that allow things to be as easy as it’s been.

Firstly, is the fact that she was born in Trinidad, and retains strong ties there even after living in the U.S. for many years. This Caribbean background has been a tremendous plus, as it has made the transition a LOT easer due to the similarity between our cultures. It also helps that some of her happiest memories were around the years she spent growing up in Trinidad.

Secondly, she has a tremendous sense of adventure and play. This has been a major culture shock for her as some of the basics of her life have disappeared, some of which will probably to be returned in our life-time. Some of the obvious “disappearances” that stand out are:
  • Starbucks – the daily availability of a good coffee in a multitude of locations is gone

  • Target/ WalMart/ Kmart/ Marshalls – being able to zip down to the store and get a bargain has disappeared in no-Sales Kingston

  • Safety in public – early morning runs on her own are a thing of the past

And then there are some newcomers to her daily concerns:
  • mosquitoes – it seems as if they just did not exist in DC (although I ran into a few in Florida)

  • dust – living with the house open to a breeze blowing through the house also means living with a dark, soot-like dust that threatens to bury us daily

  • reptiles and insects – dat same “open house and breeze ting” also invites a variety of animal life to take up residence, including the biggest roaches she has ever seen (they just walk in the door uninvited)

  • thieves, madmen, pickney (children) – we’re not sure where they tuck them away in DC and Florida, but here in Kingston they seem to be everywhere you turn, in vast numbers

  • washing machines that pretend to wash the clothes – an unsolved mystery to her!

My sister moved from DC to South Africa to Ghana, and her reports of Ghanaian life, and what I observed, led me to understand that much of what my wife is dealing with is not related to Jamaican exclusively, but is actually the experience of the majority of the people in the world, and I would more accurately call “Third World living.”

And then there are some uniquely Jamaican experiences to get used to:
  • Jamaican aggression / assertiveness: I have not met a people so ready to fight for justice, and against injustice like Jamaicans, and willing to launch a protest

  • Instant Connections: We met more people in our apartment complex in a month after moving in, than I met in seven years of owning a home in New Jersey. And this was not the “fake-friendliness” you find in the U.S. It was amazing to find out how many genuine connections existed between us as a couple (through me) and our neighbours in just a few weeks. Sure, part of it has to do with living in a small society, but a lot of it has to do with living with people who really do care. (Of course, the flipside of this close sense of connectedness is the anonymity that First World living is known for, and some people prefer that.)

  • Jamaica’s beauty – after living in Florida and DC, it’s great being 45 minutes away from mountains, beaches, rivers, waterfalls and plains.

And there is more, as yet to be discovered and distinguished.

Her spirit of adventure makes it all so much easier. That above all is her trump card, and what makes me lucky to have her as my partner-in-crime.

The words to Edi Fitztroy’s anthem “Princess Black” come to mind (from memory):

She’s a precious, precious, precious woman, Princess Girl,
She always, always, always stays on, she tougher than a rock
Anything that is progressive, she always inna dat, she work from 9-5, to keep her youths dem alive.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

The University Singers, and Sandals

Late last year I had the opportunity to attend a concert given by the University Singers.

Now, I am truly no singer. I can carry a tune more or less, but that's about as far as it goes so there's not much I'm qualified to say about the group's technical ability.

However, based on my naive point of view, they are superb. They sounded excellent, as far as the voices go.

But what impressed me was the choreography, their dress and the way they carried themselves as they performed.

Each of the women, for example, had the identical shade of nailpolish on their toes and fingers. For some strange reason, this meant a lot to me (and not for any salacious reason!)

I imagine in any other singing group that such a simple decision could have been met with loud voices of dissent, and appeals to "rights," punctuated by appeals for "justice" (every argument in Jamaica seems to end in a loud cry for justice.)

Yet, here they were fully coordinated from head to toe, having not just taken care of the music, but also the precise way in which it was presented. That kind of cohesion and precision was a pleasure to watch, and to witness, and struck me as being the result of someone's commitment to a standard that was no less than world-class.

These kinds of standards are comforting to engage with, as they show the kind of care that only comes from people who love what they are doing. The love comes through in small interactions and seemingly minute details.

That was my experience at Sandals Montego Bay Resort and Spa, where my wife and I had the pleasure of spending 2 very short nights. Of course, nights are of equal length, but a night at Sandals is an extraordinary privilege.

It was our first time, and to say that we were treated royally would be an accurate description, as their staff worked assiduously to provide us with an exceptional experience. Sandals seemed to be to somehow able to embody some of the very best of Jamaica, and to wrap it up in excellent service.

The result?: I was proud to be Jamaican, which, incidentally, is the very same result I felt after an evening of song with the University Singers.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cycling in Kingston at 4:00am

A 4:00 am bike ride averaging 22 mph? Every Tuesday and Thursday? You must be mad!

That was first reaction when others told me that the best ride in Kingston was the 40 mile ride from Liguanea to Harbour View, back to the bottom of South Camp, then past Harbour View, down to Port Royal, and then back into Liguanea.

It seemed insane to my mind, as it violated one of my basic rules, which was to never ride in the dark. When other cyclists invited me to come out I always thought to myself -- no freaking way.

Now, several months and one dislocated collar-bone later I decided to give the ride a try. The decision was made after riding one morning with my father along Windward Road at about 6am. It was still dark, and there were trucks on the road flying by at what must have been 70mph and more only 2 feet or so away. The potholes remaining from 2005's hurricanes lent added to the obstacle course. It was quite disconcerting, to say the least.

Across the dual carriage-way, I noticed the 4:00 am group. There were maybe 20 cyclists riding slowly at the end of their ride, supported by a car and a pickup truck behind them lighting their way. They looked perfectly safe, and relaxed while talking to each other.

I started to consider that maybe I was the insane one.

So, I took a big swallow and decided to take the plunge.

After a sleepless night, I got up at 3:30am, and was the first person to arrive at the meeting spot -- which was by itself a little worrying. Was I in the wrong place, on the wrong day at the wrong time?

Thankfully, no. The other guys turned up and the ride was nothing short of spectacular -- the best ride I've been in since being back in Jamaica.

Fortunately, I could keep up without too much trouble (it wasn't as hard as the hardest rides I've been on in Florida,) and the experienced cyclists and support vehicles made it enjoyable and safe enough to not have to worry about being hit every time I heard a rumble. We got back in just as it was getting light at 6:15 am.

Next to the Kingston to Negril ride I took in 2004, it was the hardest ride I've been on in Jamaica.

Last weekend I did a first -- a bonafide, off-road Mountain Bike (MTB) ride from Bowden in St. Thomas out to the Morant Point lighthouse and back. I am no MTB'er, and this was the first ride I have ever taken on a real dirt road for more than a few minutes.

It was very different than riding a road-bike, and even different from riding an MTB on the road, requiring different skills and muscles than I've used before. We took the sweetest of breaks at Rocky Point fisherman's beach, and had lunches of steamed snapper or fried chicken, with rice and peas. All that was washed down with a cold Red Stripe.

Now this is why I returned to Jamaica.

(News of a 26 inch record snowfall in New York made it feel that much sweeter.)

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Monday, February 13, 2006

3 words I've never heard put together

A "gay" ...... "Jamaican" ....... "American."

Ok, this is a first, coming on the heels of my last blog on my "ugly reaction."

In today's Sunday Gleaner I heard for the first time about Thomas Glave: a gay, Jamaican American.

That for me is a first. The only person who I know of that openly said he was a gay Jamaican was Brian Williamson, who was murdered a couple of years ago a few months after he publicly made that statement. I only heard about this after the fact.

So, Glave is the only living person I know who has openly stated that he is a gay Jamaican (albeit living in America.)

Incidentally, Glave is a professor of literature at SUNY Binghamton, and has a book published (available on called Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent.

I think I'll be doing some reading as the topic of his work has to do with being a gay Jamaican, and the hatred that he experiences as a result of his sexual orientation.

Sounds like something I'll be reading.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

An Ugly Reaction

A few weeks ago I got a message.

My wife took a message for me on my business line from a man whose name I could not quite recall. The number was unfamiliar, as was the area code.

As my mind searched for the person, I realized who I thought it was. I started to think it was a fellow who I had met in a meeting early last year, and he happened to be one of the many that I've met or worked with, who at some point I've had the thought "I think he's gay."

Except that the thought that flashed into my mind next was "I hope it's not that fucking Batty-Boy calling me." I then muttered those words under my breath.

("Batty-Boy" or "Batty-Man" is just about the most vicious slang that we use to attack gay men with in Jamaica. It's the worst insult that can be applied to a male in our society.)

The next set of thoughts I had were interesting.

"Who said that?" (Well, the answer was pretty obvious!)

"I shouldn't be saying that." (I'm too "advanced" to be saying that.)

"What would my friends who are gay say about that?" (Better hide this damn thought quickly, especially from them)

"I hope he isn't calling ME thinking I'm one of them..." (Praying desperately now...)

"If he thinks I'm one of them I'll kick his rass...." (Oh shit, there it is again!)

"Was I wearing my wedding ring when I met him?" (Insane thoughts were now starting to creep in.)

Hopefully, he didn't notice all this going on when I finally did call him back, and emailed him my speaking notes as I routinely do many times after meetings. It wasn't until the call was over that I was able to process all of these thoughts.

I realized I had come a long way, and in some ways hadn't changed at all.

As a teenager growing up, it was critically important to not look, seem, dress, think, laugh, speak, smell, sing or walk like a Batty-Man.

I remember the Calvin Klein jeans that "they" wore -- the ones without the pockets. Thank God my mother had not bought me a pair of those unwittingly, as I would have had to burn them.

This was all exhausting work, all this "making sure we weren't something."

We happily sang popular reggae songs like "Don't Bend Down," by Lovindeer. It was followed in the 1990's by songs like "Chi-Chi Man" by TOK, "Wicked in Bed" by Shabba Ranks, "Boom Bye Bye" by Buju Banton and others. They advocate that all sorts of bad things be done to gay people, including their destruction.

Standing up for "them people" was unthinkable (and definitely sinful to boot, according to the Bible.) In fact, we angrily advocated that "dem people" deserved a good beating, and perhaps the "tendency" would be "beat out of them."

Anyone suspected of being gay was quickly ostracized and derided, and I remember that there was a guy we accused of being gay in Prep School (aged 10.) We called him a "Beeps" back then. I also remember a teacher we thought was gay in high school. To be called by our first name by that teacher was a source of all sorts of teasing, as it meant that we were on a "first-name basis" with him, and therefore gay.

Add to that the fact that buggery is illegal in Jamaica. And the various Bible scriptures that can be used by some to emphasize the sinfulness of gay sex.

So, I grew up hating gays, and especially gay men.

However, I thought I had gotten past it, having lived in the US for almost twenty years. I have a few gay friends who I intend to keep for life, no matter what.

Damn, I've even watched episodes of "Queer as Folk." And, like many heterosexual men, I had a sick feeling in my stomach from watching two men kiss.

And then there is the matter of my Ugly Reaction to that message.

Somewhere, my fear that he might be calling me to "check me" or "scope me out" very quickly turned into a vile hatred, and an unconscious involuntary response.


That's what was there. Forget that bullshit about "hating the sin but loving the sinner" -- what was there was a feeling of pure hatred.

Now that I'm back to my "right" mind, I wish it weren't there, but... well, there it was.

I wouldn't say that it dominates my thinking, or that I'm even present to it for other than an instant, but now I do know that it does exist someplace inside me, and that it can come out in an instant. It also may never go away.

So, long story short, I guess I'm not as "advanced" as I thought I was. I still do need to watch myself in this area.

I'm sure to come back to this thread in some future blogs.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Being Happy Wherever You Are

A few months ago I was in RBTT inquiring into what it would take to open a bank account. I explained to the CSR that I was a returning resident, coming back to Jamaica to live.

She asked me quite pointedly: "WHY?" What she really meant was "Why... You IDIOT?" She continued; "Most people are trying to leave Jamaica to live in America... why did you come back?"

I ignored the idiot part of the question, and the following thought popped into my head, and then popped out of my mouth: "To tell you the truth, I've found that the key to being happy is not to find the right place to live, but instead to be happy wherever you are living."

It was a moment of lucidity that disappeared as she explained all the hoops I'd have to jump through to open a regular checking account, which explains why I have no accounts at RBTT.

However, my response has stuck with me. (I think it flew way over her head.)

Migration from Jamaica is a fact of life that has impacted every family. There have been never-ending waves of Jamaicans (in fact, West Indians) who have left the region for England (mostly in the 1960's) and then the US and Canada starting in the 1970's. Today, some 25,000 Jamaicans migrate to the US legally per year (and quite a few others do so illegally.)

I grew up on Halifax Crescent in the neighborhood of Barbican, in Kingston. There were 18 of us in the "posse" of teenagers that lived on the street. At present, there are 3 left living in Jamaica, and 1 in the process of leaving (1 is deceased.)

In each case, those who left did so for "greater opportunities," including myself. The impact on our parents must be substantial.

However, a quick study of the Jamaicans living in the US tells me that the results are mixed.

There is, indeed, a lot to complain about in the US, just as there is in Jamaica. There is a lot that is good in the US, just as there is in Jamaica.

I have noticed that people who are more likely to complain about life in Jamaica, are more apt to complain about life in the US. There are a quite a few juicy things to complain about in the US, namely:
-- racism and "dem white people"
-- "dem Black Americans"
-- taxes
-- the war in Iraq
-- Republicans
-- long hours with no-vacation lifestyle
-- the weather
-- jingoism that has only increased since 9/11
-- lack of curiosity or knowledge by the average American about anything outside the US
-- social distance between people
-- George Bush
-- health-care
-- lawsuits everywhere you turn

The hard part for immigrants who leave their country is having to justify why they left in the first place. The favorite tactic seems to be straightforward -- badmouth the home country at every turn.

Others explain that they want to come back home when things "return to normal," knowing full well that the odds are good that they will end up staying in the US indefinitely.

Now that I have returned to live in Jamaica, I do realize that one feeling has left me -- a sinking feeling that I would just become another Black American (rather than Jamaican) and die with all the culture I cherish washed out of me.

Most Jamaicans who live abroad, however, say that they would be living in Jamaica if only...... This indicates a certain unsettled feeling about the choices they have made. While surveys have shown that 80% of Jamaicans would migrate if given the chance, I think that has more to do with wanting a better life, rather than an informed choice.

Is it true that living in Jamaica is better and living in the US? Is it true that living in the US is easier than living in the Jamaica? I don't know how to answer these questions, as I have objective evidence to support any argument indicated.

In spite of these mixed opinions, however, I think it is important for ones peace of mind to find a way to love the place that we find ourselves, and if it changes one day, we find a way to love the new place.

Easily said, harder done.

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Finding Time to Blog

One of the questions I get often is "where do you find the time to do this (blogging thing)?"

I can't explain why, but blogging has become a pretty important part of my everyday life. I blog on my computer. I blog on my Tungsten. I scratch ideas on a pad that I carry around. I save messages on my mp3 player if I'm out running and have it with me.

Blogging has somehow hit a cord with me, and since I started last year March I think about what I'm going to post all the time -- I'm more or less on the lookout for stuff to write about constantly, and now have a list that I will definitely never ever get to the bottom of.

What keeps me going is the thought that there either is, or will be, someone out there who is reading this (like you) who might one day decide that they want to return to live in Jamaica, or some other Caribbean island, and have no idea as to where to start. I started writing when I could find nothing other than basic information on where to get the right forms and what ministries to deliver the forms to.

And , I'm also writing to give what hopefully will be future children and grandchildren an idea of some of the thoughts that are buzzing through my head. I'm not sure what they'll make of it all, of course, but perhaps it might be mildly entertaining.

But I guess I'm really writing for my own enjoyment, to be honest. Public writing is different than keeping a private diary, which would bore me to tears... I'll admit, there is something slightly risky about the whole thing, which is probably what keeps me writing. After all, I happen to be in the business of "pushing the edge" in my career, so why not do it here also?

I'm glad to report that writing, on a whole, has transformed from a chore (a necesary evil) into something that I just can't wait to do. That change has been a tremendous gift from the Universe.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Topics I Don't Blog About

Recently I was asked by someone online if there are any topics I don't blog about. One of the hot topics that have not yet touched is homosexuality, and how it plays out here in the Caribbean.

Most of my experience comes from being here in Jamaica, which has the broadest manifestations of hatred, and I think is a leading force in the West Indies in social attitudes.

I can't tell the reason why I have not spoken on the topic, except that perhaps I have had nothing to say. Until now.

Last week I was in HiLo, and overheard a loud conversation between two employees, one whom had apparently walked beside some gay men holding hands. They were quite agitated that that could be happening in "broad daylight."

One of them arrived at the following conclusion as I was unsuccessfully searching for canned string beans: "hear me man.... if my son turn out to be a batty-man, I would mek sure to kill him first before any anyone else (could)."

I believe him.

I further believe that he is not alone, and that the overt hatred that is often openly expressed, acted out by almost all of us, reinforced by the judicious use of scripture and supported by written law are just the precursors for something awful to happen. It's the way awful things happened, and happen in the world -- whether they be in Soweto, Auschwitz, Montgomery, Rwanda, Wounded Knee, My Lei or Kosovo.

More on this to come

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